On writing things down 


Help! I need a second brain – my first one is full of crap.

Recently I discovered how nice it feels to write things down, and how quiet my mind is after i’ve organised my thoughts. I saw people posting their fresh new diaries and was reminded how nice it is to work in analog. Filling in a blank page with words is intensely satisfying, similar to hitting publish on a blog post that i’d been mulling over for a week – like this one! A few weeks ago I picked up a Moleskine from Officeworks and designated him as my second brain for the year. Let me tell you about how Inigo, yes, I pretty much name every important object in my life, has changed me for the better.

 

I’m not one for glitter pens or planning my day into 30 minute increments in pastel pink, but lists? Lists are amazing. My previous method for writing lists and appointments would be to jot it down on the nearest piece of paper (receipts, labels, toilet paper etc.) and then lose the list immediately. This method is great if you’d like to spend your day worrying about what you’ve forgotten to do rather than writing, doing creative projects etc.

The feeling of trying to remember everything and worrying about what i’ve forgotten is enough to leave absolutely no room for creative thinking. I’ll sit down to write and all I can think about is “socks, socks, buy some damn socks you trench-footed baby adult.” The volume in my brain is turned up so loud that I am completely stalled in whatever i’m doing. Writing things down in the one spot is like letting my brain breathe, leaving plenty of room for my weird little ideas to convince me that they need to be written about. I know exactly where to go when I need to look at lists, timetables, rosters, and have somewhere to write if I come up with something and i’m not within arms length of my macbook.

If you also feel like writing things out is helpful, I loosely follow the bullet journal style of cataloguing and you can watch a quick video about it here.  I’ve found this method of logging daily tasks to be the best to ensure I get things done while giving me the freedom to write down anything, take up as many pages as I need, and know that I can still locate important information.

Keeping track of things and using method of organisation that condenses my useless internal chatter into an A5 rectangle?

Inconceivable!

inigo

Thanks Inigo.

*Seriously please watch The Princess Bride if you haven’t already, we’ll understand each other much more easily.

What is my writing process?


Let me tell you a thing: I don’t spend a huge amount of time writing. I don’t write 2000 words a day. My writing comes in waves, some days i’ll sit around thinking about writing all day, and other days some magical force picks me up and gets my fingers moving at a lightning pace. At the end of this strange possession-like period of zooming fingers I usually have something that doesn’t require a huge amount of reworking, and mostly makes sense. It looks a bit like this:

kermit

But some days I don’t wait around for the magic, and I have a go at forcing out a piece i’ve had kicking around in my Moleskine for a while. Sometimes it works, but it’s definitely not the same. It’s generally a bit of a hard slog and the words might not have that natural flow to them, but it’s undeniably satisfying to get something down after a fair bit of internal struggle. Other times, however, it’s more like trying to mine a nugget of gold from an old rotting compost heap using my 2 year old sister’s silicone Dora The Explorer spoon. Those days tend to not be as productive on the word count front, and I think it’s totally ok to throw down the dirty spoon and say hey, things aren’t working out today, let’s pick this up again tomorrow.

I think a lot of people think that I spend my every waking minute hunched over my word processor, and admittedly a lot of high-volume writers do that and it works for them, and ultimately I think i’d probably prefer to work like that just for that feeling of ‘working’ everyday. But I know myself to know that’s not going to produce my best work.  But what works for me is a slower paced method that occasionally involves waiting for some little house elf/gremlin-like creature of inspiration to come over and prod me into gear with a rusty knife with a loud guttural battlecry of “LEZ DO DISSSSSSSS!” It’s worth hanging out for, because  it’s like i’m not even typing, and I write things that perhaps I think in my head but dismiss as not even worth writing down. It’s not until either I or my partner read back over them with a chuckle that I realise what i’ve written, both surprised that I had that sort of language in me.

I used to think on the days that I didn’t write anything, that i’d failed, or had an unproductive day and I would beat myself up about it. But now i’ve realised that the days I spend thinking about writing are just as valuable, because those internal brainstorming days set me up for those moments of frantic writing. A book that has helped me stress less about my writing volume has been Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It took me a while to get past the acid-tripping bright cover and bring that baby home, but i’m so glad I did. It’s nice to know that other people, and a best selling author no less, has moments of stagnation, but also gets this feeling of being pushed along by an external force. If you’ve ever really struggled with your creative process I really encourage you to check out this book, it’s like the warm reassuring hug you never knew you needed.

Just to get an idea of my frantic bursts of writing thanks to my Inspiration Gremlin, I wrote all of this in as little as 10 minutes, and i’ll have it edited and posted in another 10. That might not be surprising to some people, but to me writing 700 words in that time that needs very little editing is crazy. It feels great when inspiration shows up.

What’s your process? Do you battle it out until it’s done, or do you wait around for those lightning moments? Or something completely different?

*Edit: It took me a fair bit longer than 20 minutes because my backspace got stuck and decided to chew up a whole paragraph – save frequently folks! Or at least don’t sit there panic-stricken as your computer slowly eats your work and do something other than mashing the keyboard.

“Oh, how creative.”

  

There’s no arguing that creativity can be a messy, confusing process no matter what it is you’re into. Something I’ve found to be just as if not more frustrating than actually doing the work is trying to explain the thing that you’re doing to people who don’t really want to understand.

If you are one of these people whether you make candles, poetry, miniature train sets or play violin at the local train station — chances are you’ve had to explain yourself to someone who doesn’t understand, or someone who sees creative thinking as a frivolous pastime. It’s incredibly frustrating to have people ask when they don’t really care, or already have a preconceived idea about how you live or spend your time. Creativity isn’t just an excuse for creative people to sit back and allow everyone else to slog out the 9-5 while we, the throng of creative do-nothings, roll naked down a grassy hill.

As a person with my creepy skeleton fingers in many weird-tasting pies, I’ve received the dismissive comments about what I do many times, and for a while it stressed me out so much that I just stopped telling people. Meeting new people left me with heart palpitations and boob sweat because I knew at least a third of the encounter would be me trying to explain myself, as if I was apologising for doing something that brings me so much enjoyment.

Between writing, ceramics, and making jewellery out of oven-hardening clay, the response I receive quite often is the same variation of “Oh, you do (insert creative skill)? – that must be nice, to have so much time on your hands …” or when people half-heartedly asking how my “little writing projects” are coming along as they stare off into the distance wistfully noting that they don’t even have time to paint their nails anymore. I just didn’t see the point in putting myself through that, until I started answering these half-hearted questions so honestly and with as much confidence as I could gather that people either stopped giving me the not-so-subtle put down or I just didn’t care what they thought because I was doing the work that was fulfilling and exciting for me.

I sound like I’m oversimplifying the solution if I say to ‘just stop caring’. But really, I just stopped giving a shit what everyone else thinks of me/my work, and it sounds brutal but I honestly don’t think a lot of people care what anyone else is doing, and that’s alright. When you consider how wrapped up everyone is in their own problems and how little time they spend thinking/talking about you, it just makes it a lot easier to stop worrying. Just be ridiculously excited about what you’re doing, let everyone know about it if they dare to ask, and if they’re dismissive or condescending – that’s cool, just don’t waste your time having any sort of similar conversation with them again. 

As Chuck Wendig notes in his blog post 25 Things You Should Know About Creativity, he’s devised the perfect way to deal with the “Oh, how creative” mindset:

“Hey, fuck those people. Fuck ‘em because they don’t grok the fact that creativity is what makes this whole human race not just function, but evolve.”

I’m not suggesting that creativity is the cure-all for everything screwed up in the world, but I just think that those who think that creative people don’t work hard or don’t ‘grind’ as much as everyone else are being ridiculous. Everyone works hard. A lot of people work multiple jobs and still come home with swollen ankles and do their dance practice, or spend nights painting while the kids sleep. Even if it makes no money, if it goes nowhere in the eyes of others, and it’s something you would do regardless and it makes you happy – I think that means you should definitely fucking do it irrespective of what everyone else might think.

Fear and Possums

full-fathom-five

For the next instalment of Alissa and Fear – lets talk about fear some more and the way in which I scare myself on an almost-daily basis, and why it’s ridiculous to be scared all the time.

As a child I was very highly strung. I remember wailing at my mother from the bathroom door as she showered, lamenting that I would never ever be able to tell the time, or pleading with my mother to promise me that my arm hair wouldn’t grow back black and wiry because I’d shaved it after following the advice of a friend.

I have my overactive imagination to blame; just see my last post which included an attractive little anecdote about me screeching in the street because I’d stepped on a passionfruit and my brain immediately deduced that I’d squished the life out of a frog, or refer to the time I drove off from a friends party and ran over a stick, which I really knew was a stick, but all the way home decided that it was definitely a baby possum and I had killed it and it was all my fault and had to text said friend when I got home just to make her go out and check that I hadn’t Jackson-Pollocked a baby possum on her driveway. It was of course, a stick.

Basically there’s endless examples of me being afraid of silly things, and while I can look back on it and laugh, it was definitely a genuine feeling of fear that I was experiencing at the time. It was something that I couldn’t, and still struggle to snap out of.

When it comes to writing, fear is what has held me back from sharing my blog with my friends and family. The comforting anonymity felt safe, and as soon as I opened my blog up to those that I knew I was expecting ridicule or judgment. Instead, I received a flood of heartwarming support which made me wish I’d shared it sooner.

Obviously, in some instances, fear is healthy. It’s what keeps us alive and stops us from doing stupid shit like attempting to jump off a cliff to see if we can fly. But in a lot of ways – and for me a lot of ridiculous ways – fear holds us back, self doubt stymies us and we only have ourselves to blame for not pushing on and following our passions or taking a leap. Maybe it’s a case of standing up to that part of you trying to ruin your day and telling it to shut the fuck up, or at least to quiet down for a bit.

How do you overcome fear? Asking for a friend.

 

Pottery Club

My love of clay began when I gifted my Nan a metallic green pig I had sculpted in art class at school.  It had little beady eyes and an altogether unsettling body composition, but I was so proud of it, and the deformed little sentinel still stands guard in her foyer.

I didn’t touch clay again until I discovered the joys of oven-bake clay in November 2011. Clay that you can cure in a little toaster oven in just 15 minutes? Magic! From there I began making miniature food sculptures you can wear as jewellery. I realise that sentence is a little confusing for someone who doesn’t spend hours sculpting a carrot the size of a matchstick, so it’s probably easier for you to get the gist by having a quick squiz here to really understand what i’m blabbing about. Yes, it’s an extremely niche market, but thankfully yes, people really do buy/wear them.

For as long as I can remember wheel thrown pottery has always mesmerised me, but classes were few and far between, and were almost always booked up well in advanced. For my 23rd birthday I was determined to find a class with open spaces, and a new studio opened up just a suburb away. The thought of trying to wrangle a hunk of clay on a spinning wheel using nothing but centrifugal force and my hands was a dizzying concept, and more than just being fun, it would be functional! I might be able to make things that can hold water and food and look aesthetically pleasing – unlike my metallic pig.

I struggled through my first couple of classes. Getting that little lump of stoneware clay to sit in the middle of the wheel-head seemed near impossible, and being left-handed added an exciting little learning curve. My instructor insisted I was a natural, but I felt more like a fraud as I did in music class, holding up the clarinet and pretending to play without having a clue what I was doing. After a few lessons of me gritting my teeth trying to make things that looked less like stunted little vessels that were either too thick or dangerously thin, it all started to flow much more easily.

Wheel throwing has forced me gather a modicum of patience. I was so used to having a near instant end result with oven-baked clay. I could start and finish a piece in under an hour, but now it takes more like 3 weeks, as I only have one day a week in the studio and things need time to firm up between trimming/bisque firing/glazing. I started classes almost two months ago and it was only last week that I sent my first two little planters to the mercy of the kiln gods. They’re not perfect, but they’ll be the first thing I’ll be able to hold in my hand as a finished product. As I put them on the firing shelf I muttered my goodbyes, telling them to “Make Mummy proud or don’t bother coming home.” One of the resident potters happened to walk in at that time and had a good giggle, noting that she too had that same nervous feeling when she started.

In just two days i’ll be able to see how they went on their little journey. They might have exploded, or the glaze might have run and turned them into a permanent art installation in the kiln. I’ll admit that the waiting is killing me, but the process was half the fun.

A x.

Hungry

Photo by Mark_K_ on Flickr
Photo by Mark_K_ on Flickr

After graduation I was satiated. I thought I had eaten and dished out more words than I could ever read/write/speak again. I revelled in the feeling of having nothing due, to go to sleep without triple-checking to ensure I did in fact set my alarm. I was in a state of blissful limbo, where I felt the space between graduating and work was a good place to rest because damn, I had worked hard.

I worked in my unfulfilling cafe job and spent all my in-between time sculpting. I loved having the time and freedom to pursue my art, and I had no intentions to write, read, or do anything in relation to my degree. I had no idea what I was doing, floating through the weeks in the hopes that my dream job would yank me out of hibernation and inspire me to continue what I used to love and do for fun.

That feeling of euphoric freedom faded as swiftly as it had come. Small talk with strangers became difficult, because when they asked what I do for a living I stuttered and made excuses trying to justify my state of nothingness.

Up until now I had been stagnant, but it all became too much. Doing nothing was weighing on me more than when I was running myself ragged, and that gnawing need to write started to bug me. At first writing was hard, I felt like a newborn baby giraffe stumbling around clumsily. But now it’s just started happening, as weird as it sounds. I’m writing in my head constantly, most of it is shit, I mean it’s not like I picked up a pen and became a writing savant or anything. But I’ve started carrying my journal around just in case, and i’ve actually picked up my university textbooks again. For the first time, in a very long time, I can call myself a writer and actually mean it.

Hello Internet

Plants loved to death: 5
Pet rats scurrying beneath me: 2
Bulldog lurking at the window: 1
Awkwardness of the first blog post: 107.3%
Firstly, hi. My name is Alissa. The name of this blog is loosely based on me researching the meaning of my name and discovering that it is derived from the scientific name of a plant said to cure rabies/madness. Good one Mum. I am also an overbearing plant mother and it saddens me greatly that I smother them with kindness. Rest in peace drowned succulents and desiccated air plants. I’ve adopted a new theory that if I pay as little attention to my plants as possible, that they will take care of themselves. The tough love act seems to be successful. One weekly watering, as well as a rotation on the shelf to ensure that everyone gets a turn in the dappled sunlight of my studio window.
I would say that i’m also overbearing with my rats, but they don’t seem to mind being allowed free reign of the house and treated to enough dinner leftovers that they look practically spherical. They’ve recently learnt that they can leap onto my bed, so I will often be in bed watching a show and have a small chihuahua sized rat soar through the air to plop onto my duvet. They alternate between launching themselves at me and stealing my socks and hoarding them beneath the abyss of my bed.
My bulldog Baxter genuinely thinks he’s a person and is treated as such. He enjoys hammocks, long walks, and taking my most loved clothes and artfully displaying them in the backyard. Baxter is one of those dogs that always pretend that they haven’t been fed, which is how he’s often treated to an accidental second meal by another family member.
And that’s pretty much my posse.
Madplant